It is hypocritical to demand Kate Osamor’s son loses his job | Michael Segalov

Some MPs have admitted taking drugs, so why do others want a man punished beyond what the courts decided?

In July 2007, the then home secretary Jacqui Smith admitted to having smoked cannabis while a student at Oxford University. A few days earlier, she had launched a consultation that led to it being reclassified from a class C drug to class B. The maximum sentence for possession became up to five years in prison, and/or an unlimited fine. Most of the cabinet went on to admit to having smoked cannabis in their lifetimes, while the rest of us – disproportionately so among black people – continued to be punished for doing the same.

Smith is not the only politician to have demonstrated total hypocrisy over the legislation surrounding drugs in Britain – far from it. In 2013, the Daily Mail reported that traces of cocaine could be found in lavatories throughout the Palace of Westminster – including areas just a stone’s throw from MPs’ offices, places that members of the public are restricted from entering.

There are some interesting, if I’m sure entirely innocent, pictures of George Osborne. David Cameron never denied taking cocaine when the question was put to him. Boris Johnson admitted to having taken Class As in his youth. Where was the faux outrage from Priti Patel and Anne-Marie Trevelyan when drug use was admitted by their fellow Conservative politicians? It’s why calls from Tory MPs for Labour’s shadow international development secretary, Kate Osamor, to be punished for her son’s conviction for drug offences are misguided, as are demands for him to lose his job in parliament.

Even if you don’t believe – contrary to the evidence – that reform to drug laws is needed, then at the very least it must be accepted that we are deferent to the rule of law. The premise of justice is simple: if you’re convicted of a crime and accept your punishment and present no risk to others, then a line must be drawn under the illegal activity itself. To demand people be punished further, whoever they might be, goes against a fundamental tenet of our legal system.

Ishmael Osamor has already resigned from his cabinet post on Haringey council. He has resigned as a Labour councillor, too. He has apologised in a public statement, and accepted his punishment at Bournemouth crown court of 200 hours’ community service and up to 20 days’ rehabilitation. There’s no reason for him to lose his job as well because, while it’s almost impossible to get a true sense of the scale of drug use in United Kingdom, it’s hardly an out-of-the-ordinary occurrence. One in five adults aged between 16 and 24 have taken a drug in the last year, and it’s worth remembering that not everyone is comfortable fessing up to what they’ve done. Those calling for Osamor to lose his job can’t truly believe that 20% of young people nationwide should also be fired from their workplaces.

It’s also worth noting the circumstances surrounding his arrest at Bestival, an annual music festival in Dorset. Osamor wouldn’t have been the only person taking drugs inside – as I have witnessed. Yet he, a young black man, was one of the few who got caught. Black people are at least eight times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, although white people are more likely to be found to be carrying drugs. British music festivals outside the capital continue to be places dominated by white party-goers; there’s limited data in the UK tracking attendance at festivals, but take it from someone who has been to more than their fair share, just as in the United States, in Britain it’s very much the case.

The practice of MPs employing family members does not sit comfortably with me, and it’s right that it has been banned for those who have entered parliament since 2017. But nearly one in five MPs currently do so, and therefore Ishmael Osamor must be treated as any member of staff would. If his employer believes he is suitable for his post he should keep it.

• Michael Segalov is a journalist and author


Michael Segalov

The GuardianTramp

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